A Very Jewish Christmas

Jewish-ChristmasThere are many things I don’t love about Christmas.

First off, those ridiculous fake antlers that people put on their cars. And that infernal Salvation Army bell ringing – whywhywhy do they keep ringing at you no matter how much money you put in there? I swear I’d drop a fifty just to be able to get from the front door of Target to my car without feeling like I was going to be mowed over by a bunch of rattle-wielding toddlers hopped up on candy canes.

And then there’s the whole frickin’ Elf on the Shelf mishegoss that is supposed to inspire good behavior in the children but as far as I can tell is just another way for martyr mothers to create messes that they then have to clean up in the morning, when it is far too early for vodka. (Obviously, I did not get here first: this Elf hater’s rant went viral last year.)

I’ve actually mellowed waaaaay down about the whole Santa season. I used to self-righteously correct every person who wished us a “Merry Christmas” in the checkout line because I felt like I had to defend my children’s sense of identity; I was also rather sensitive when well-meaning folks gave the kids presents for Christmas like they’d been somehow deprived. And then there’s the confusing fuckery of a Jewish kid sitting on Santa’s lap, and the harsh reality when that kid’s Christmas wish comes true.

I’ve responded over the years by jacking up our Chanukah celebrations: The outside of our house looks like a Jewish Las Vegas, we play dreidel every night, we invite people over to eat and drink, we revel in the joy of who we are and who we love. My point is to party everyone to exhaustion so that when Christmas rolls around, we’re still all sated and content in our latke comas.

Still, being a Jew on Christmas can get lonely, or worse, a pity party. In past year’s we’ve packed everyone up for a schizo holiday adventure, which is fun, but expensive. And a lot of driving.

So this year we chose to do nothing for Christmas. No plans, no Chinese food, no movie theater lines, nothing. No visitors, no consolatory Santa gifts, no crashing other people’s homes for a stray glass of eggnog. It was fantastic. We sat around the house, knitting and playing board games. No one showered. When it started getting dark we made steaks and acorn squash and kale, followed by a chocolate cherry pie I made only partly from scratch. The highlight of the day was watching Dr. Who on the BBC.

It was enlightening to realize that we Jews don’t have to hide from Christmas, to avoid Santa and the pretty lights and the decorated trees. Our children are gonna find it anyway, and it doesn’t make them any less Jewish to love those fun snappers or wear an oversized Santa cap. I’m cool with our familial attitude that it’s a glorious holiday that so many of our friends enjoy, and we can wish them well. And enjoy an eggnog if we’re so invited.

So when the lady at the coffeeshop this morning asked me if I’d had a Merry Christmas, I didn’t even feel like I needed to remind her that not everyone celebrates this holiday. I just smiled and said “Yes, I did. Hope you did, too.”

Reflections in the Shadows

It’s over, another Chanukah down, nothing but memories to cherish and candle wax to pick off the shelf in front of the window.

It was a truly lovely eight nights. I know many families who weren’t able to light the candles every evening due to school obligations and the dizzying December schedule that only slows down on Dec. 24, and I’m so grateful that we were able to make and take the time. (For those who wish Chanukah would just sync up with a major holiday so we could actually have a nice insulated rest with the family, take heart, ’cause next year Chanukah starts right before Thanksgiving. Woot woot, latke-stuffed turkey? Cranberry sufganiyot? Fried pumpkin pie?)

Yenta Boy received a ukelele and entertained us by immediately learning Florence + The Machine’s “Dog Days.” Little Yenta Girl showed us she wasn’t so little anymore by shooting 17 baskets in a row in her new NBA-regulation hoop. We spent a lot of time laying on the rug in the living room making sure all our menorahs didn’t set the house on fire and laughing at the dog’s hideous gas.

The brightness of the last couple of nights was dimmed by the horrific tragedy in Newtown Friday morning, and I hugged my children even tighter this weekend. I let them have the extra piece of cake and watch another episode of whatever crap show they’re obsessed with on Netflix these days. Their presence seems even more precious, their strong health even more miraculous. I felt like I could see eternity in the candles’ light reflected in their eyes.

I am inside-out with grief for the parents who lost their children and the town whose community must stagger forward with the yoke of this awful, awful thing. I cannot get the sweet face of 6 year-old Noah Pozner — the youngest of the 20 children killed — out of my head. He was probably telling his friends what he got for Chanukah on Thursday night when Adam Lanza burst in with his guns. Jewish law requires a body be laid to rest as soon as possible. His funeral is today.

Every year I make a donation in the name of my kids’ teachers as a holiday thanks (I’m almost positive they do not want another smelly candle) and this year’s went to My Sandy Hook Family Fund. I hope it lessens the load a little, though there isn’t enough money in the world to fill the void left by these small people and their courageous teachers.

May the dark days be over, may the dark days be done.

 

Chanukah, You So Gangsta

Yoyoyo, you know the Festival of Lights is dope when L.A. gangsters get schmutzy with the latkes:

Totally saying this to my father-in-law tonight: “We gonna kibbitz, we gonna kvetch, and we damn sh*t gonna gamble.”

Check Episode 2 of “Bubala, Please,” featuring what may be the first shehecheyanu blessing to include the words “Motherf*cker”:

HEEB magazine posted an interview with the schticky creators of Bubala, Please…which means Daquan and Luis are actors?! They aren’t really Jewish? I guess that explains why they thought a Chanukah Bush was, like, an actual thing. Notsomuch an excuse for its Jewish creators.

Bummer. I wanted to invite these homies over to spin some dreidel. The kids would LOVE them.

 

The Miracle of Matisyahu

Kind of crushing on Matisyahu right now. (In a totally tzniut way, of course.)

After years and years and years of suffering through the cheesiness of “I Have A Little Dreidel” and Adam Sandler’s “Chanukah Song,” Judaism’s reggae superstar has given us not one but TWO holiday jams all our own:

Last year, he gave us “Miracle,” not only dance worthy but deeply representative of the spirit of the season. No need to claim Goldie Hawn here — it’s about what’s above all that. I have been singing up and down the halls of the office, much to the delight and excitement of everyone I work with:

Now, check his Tonight Show performance of the brand new “Happy Hanukkah” (then download the single to help those recovering that beeotch Hurricane Sandy):

Our man Matty has gone through a true transformation in a year, shaving his beard and clearly employing a stylist (someone had to buy him those jeans; dude’s been wearing a black suit for a like a decade.) He appears to have cast off Orthodoxy for something more fluid, but still claims strong Jewish faith. I’m just glad he’s still making Chanukah songs we can be proud of.

(Call me meshuggeh, but I actually think he was little cuter with the peyes. What psychological nugget is embedded within my twisted Ashkenazic DNA that I think tzitzit are sexy?)

Latkes Off the Internet: Is This Even Legal?

I saw these flash-frozen latkes advertised in a pop-up ad yesterday and my feelings are, *ahem*, mixed:

On one blistered hand, it sounds like a fantastic idea to save the greasy mess and let the nice mensches at SchmaltzOnline.com do the shredding and the frying. (It’s also an expensive one: $17 for a dozen potato pancakes with the toppings PLUS $22 for FedEx shipping, though you are worth it.)

On the other, think of the generations of Jewish mothers who have grated off half their fingers for the screaming Chanukah masses. They would tell you latkes aren’t kosher unless there is a little blood in those potatoes!

I suppose if you don’t want to get dirty at all (and don’t care about diminishing all the work of the bubbies of yore, you ungrateful shmo), these look like a tasty option.

That said, I’m Streit’s mix girl, myself. But I promise I suffer a lot of pin-sized burns all over my entire body from the sizzling spatter. (I don’t know how it gets inside the apron but it does.)

So I do love a nice shortcut, especially when combined with Jewish kitsch.

Speaking of yiddishe hilarity, who wants a Jewish toaster for Chanukah?

 

 

 

Twins Fighting in the Womb? So Jewish.

Have you seen this cinematic MRI clip of a pair of twins duking it out in utero?

Any Jew who stays awake in shul during Genesis will be reminded of those famous Biblical twins, Esau and Jacob — or as I introduced them to my Shalom Schoolers, “Hairy” and “Heel Grabber.” (Literal translations! Look it up!)

Their ugly rivalry began in poor Rebecca’s uterus, which can’t have been any kind of comfortable, and resulted in Jacob tricking his elder bro out of their papa’s birthright and blessing. I always used this story to illustrate to the kinders how siblings should be nice to each other ’cause karma will catch up to your sorry ass and you’ll marry the wrong sister.

What is totally whack, and maybe only us amateur Torah nerds will care, is that this week’s Torah portion is about Jacob reconciling with Esau! The viral interwebs intersecting with the scriptures of long ago? It’s blowing MY MIND, MAN.

This definitely calls for some Grateful Dead — “My Brother Esau,” natch.